I’m an amateur photographer buying my first DSLR. I don’t claim to be an expert but I have spent many hours researching and I’ve decided to share all the useful information that I’ve turned up in the process. This post is centered around the Nikon D5000 which ultimately was my first choice.
Top Entry Level DSLRs
Comparing entry level DSLRs can be a daunting task. Here are some of the best choices on the market right now. Most if not all of these cameras are highly recommended by dpreview.com and other reviewers. Prices based on current street prices for new camera with kit lens (as of Dec 3, 2009).
- $440.00 – Nikon D40 (which is being discontinued and replaced by the D3000)
- $469.00 – Nikon D3000
- $569.95 – Canon Digital Rebel XSi (650D)
- $642.46 – Nikon D5000
- $719.00 – Canon EOS Rebel T1i (500D) *
- $1,032.99 – Nikon D90 *
* You might assume that a higher number indicates a better model but that is not always true. It seems that the camera manufacturers like to keep us on our toes.
Find them at Amazon… and if this post is helpful to you then please show your thanks by clicking on my link to get there, especially if you might buy something. 😉 –> Click Here to go to Amazon.com
Nikon vs. Canon
Nikon and Canon are the top two brands today. The general consensus is that Nikon and Canon both make excellent entry level DSLRs and you really can’t go wrong with either brand. Most people recommend that you go to a large store where you can demo the specific cameras, hold them in your hand and see which one you like better.
Since I’m in NYC, I went to B&H where they have all the new cameras available to demo. They don’t have memory cards in them but you can still power them on, take pictures and see the preview in the LCD screen.
My impressions were that the Nikons seem to have better build quality and ergonomics compared the Canons. The grip was definitely more comfortable in my hand. For what it’s worth Nikon’s shutter also sounded quieter and more refined.
From all the various reviews and sample pictures of entry level DSLRs, I’ve gathered that Canon and other manufacturers default settings tend to boost the contrast, saturation and sharpness to make the pictures look more punchy while Nikon has a more realistic neutral look by default. Take a look at this comparison and see if you agree:
Either can be tweaked to look a bit more like the other but that involves some degree of difficulty. For example, you could take pictures in RAW mode which would allow you to adjust the sharpening level, contrast and saturation settings, color temperature / white balance, and so on. However, this would probably be a burden for a lot of people, particularly first time DSLR owners.
If this is your first DSLR keep in mind that you’re not just buying one camera. You’re buying into the system. Each manufacturer has their own lens mount and the lenses are not inter-compatible. Once you start accumulating Nikon or Canon Lenses you will essentially be investing in that respective platform. Read more about the Nikon lens system @ http://photo.net/equipment/nikon/
Let the pictures do the talking
Flickr and YouTube are great ways to check out samples of photos and videos from specific camera models. See photos taken with d5000 @ http://www.flickr.com/cameras/nikon/d5000/
Since the d5000 has the same sensor and nearly identical abilities as the D90 in terms of picture quality, we can also look at pictures from the D90 which was released first and is much more prevalent on Flickr @ http://www.flickr.com/cameras/nikon/d90/
Video samples from d5000
Awesome time-lapse video made with the d5000
Dpreview.com provides excellent in depth reviews on many cameras including the D5000. http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/NikonD5000/
YouTube has become an invaluable consumer resource for video reviews of all sorts of products. Cameralabs.com has a great video review of the D5000 here.
More Video Reviews from What Digital Camera @ http://www.youtube.com/user/WhatDigitalCamera
Ken Rockwell has a great free User’s Guide for the D5000 as well as most other popular Nikon DSLRs @ http://www.kenrockwell.com/nikon/d5000/users-guide/index.htm
Head-to-head: Canon EOS T1i (500D) vs Nikon D5000
Dxomark.com offers a very technical comparison of the sensor in each camera and the Nikon scores higher in their tests but the sensor performance alone doesn’t tell the whole story… http://www.dxomark.com/index.php/eng/Insights/Canon-500D-T1i-vs.-Nikon-D5000/Color-blindness-sensor-quality
Here’s gizmodo’s comparison of the Canon EOS T1i (500D) vs Nikon D5000. http://gizmodo.com/5234607/canon-rebel-t1i-vs-nikon-d5000-entry+level-dslr-battlemodo
Gizmodo always seems to prefer Canon because they’re more “gadgety” which isn’t surprising since they are a gadget site. In this case they picked the canon by a nose mainly because of “the video and the better Live View focus technique, as well as the slightly better high-ISO performance.” These are certainly valid points if those features are important to you. But in looking at those sample shots I prefer the pictures from the Nikon. Picture quality is my top priority and in my eyes the Nikon’s pics look more life like with superior exposure and color tone. Keep in mind that the Nikon is also about $80 cheaper right now.
Nikon D3000 Vs D5000
A feature comparison between the 2 models can be found here http://www.dpreview.com/news/0907/09073004d3000handson.asp
Here are some of the features in the D5000 that you don’t get in the D3000 (or the older D40, D40X, D60)
- More Pixels – The D5000 has a better sensor and more mega pixels
- Bracketing – The ability to automatically take 3 shots with 3 varying exposures. This is very helpful for creating HDR images.
- Movie mode – People have commented that the movie mode is actually smoother on the D5000 than the more expensive D90, which was Nikon’s first DSLR with movie mode.
- Intervalometer – This is an interval timer which can be used for time lapse photography.
- Vari-angle viewfinder – The D5000 is the only Nikon DSLR with this feature. It was not a big deal for me but it will probably come in handy for self portraits and shooting over crowds at concerts or parades.
Size-wise the D5000 is a little bigger and heavier than the D3000 but still smaller and lighter than the D90.
Nikon D5000 Vs D90
Compared to the D90, the D5000 is almost identical in terms of picture quality and capabilities but there are other upgrades that come with the D90. They include:
- Higher resolution LCD screen
- Bigger viewfinder
- More external controls – experts like this because it gives you quicker access to manual controls
- A better kit lens – the 18-105mm Nikkor lens that comes with the D90 has a greater zoom range than the 18-55mm Nikkor lens includes with the D3000 and D5000.
- Better lens compatibility – Because the D90 has a built in AF motor, there are more lenses available which can autofocus with it
The D90 delivers the goods but is it worth the additional $390 to you?
Nikon Lens Compatibility
The D40, D40x, D60, D3000 and D5000 need lenses with built-in motors to autofocus. Nikon designates these lenses as AF-S. Older AF lenses can still be used but only with manual focus.
The D90 and D300 as well as the older D50, D70, D70s, D80, D100, and D200 will AF with any AF Nikon lens because they have an AF motor built into the camera body.
This is a big deal for people with a collection of older AF lenses and could be important if you plan on buying older AF lenses used.
On the bright side, all the new lenses being released by Nikon are AF-S. Some other manufacturers are making AF-S equivalent lenses as well. Sigma calls theirs HSM (hyper sonic motor) and Tamron calls theirs BIM (built in motor).
I personally decided to go with Nikon over Canon because I like the build quality, ergonomics and mostly because I prefer the picture quality. The Canon just didn’t feel right for me, particularly when I held it in my hand. While Canon has a few cheaper lenses I question their durability and most lenses from Nikon are competitively priced. Canon has a few advantages such as in video quality but none that are particularly important to me. I ordered the Nikon D5000 yesterday.
Nikon D5000 Best Price
I ordered mine from Amazon.com where it’s $642 with free shipping (as of Dec 3, 2009). This is the lowest price I could find from a reputable retailer and authorized Nikon dealer. –> Click Here to go to Amazon.com
Be sure to check the Special Offers listed on the product page. Along with free shipping, I got a free “Nikon School” DVD and camera system case and a free subscription to Wired Magazine with my purchase.
Tip: “Items sold by Amazon.com LLC, or its subsidiaries, and shipped to destinations in the states of Kansas, Kentucky, New York, North Dakota, or Washington are subject to tax.” All other states won’t be charged tax and remember it’s the shipping address that counts, not the billing address. 😉
Before You Buy
It’s wise to buy from an Authorized Dealer in order to make sure that your warranty will be honored and so on. You can check the list here at Nikon’s website.
If you’re going to buy the D5000 you should be aware that there was a recall advisory on this model.
Recent comments on Amazon suggest that they are already past the affected serial numbers but if you do get a defective camera you should be covered since Amazon.com is an Authorized Nikon Dealer.
The D90 has had a similar advisory. Google it if you’re interested in that model.
Other Nifty Links
Sources for used gear @ keh.com, bhphotovideo.com, craigslist.org and ebay.com
An excellent tutorial explaining aperture @ http://www.photoxels.com/tutorial_aperture.html
What is “bokeh”? –> See example of bokeh
“In photography, bokeh is the blur, or the æsthetic quality of the blur, in out-of-focus areas of an image, or “the way the lens renders out-of-focus points …” – wikipedia.org
Prime Lenses (which are normal fixed lenses as opposed to zoom lenses) are known for having a better bokeh.
Learn about different types of lenses @ http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/camera-lenses.htm<
This clever tool shows you what perspective you can expect to see from various types of lenses http://www.tamron.com/lenses/learning_center/tools/focal-length-comparison.php (click on “close window” inside the grey box at the bottom)